Lying on a wrestling mat in the lobby of an aging theater, I closed my eyes and focused on my breath. The simple act of breathing had never been much of a focus for me until now, but with my mind intent on inhaling and exhaling in a particular manner, I began to feel a calming sensation wash over my body. I heard a voice ask if I were ready to move, and at that moment I did my best to thrust my legs upward in a laughably amateur attempt at a headstand. “I got you,” the voice said,” and I opened my eyes to see Trivium vocalist and guitarist Matt Heafy holding my feet. He was still smiling when he said, “Don’t worry, I won’t let you fall.”
Matt Heafy was barely a teenager when he was asked to join Florida metal outfit Trivium. Now 32, the man many see as being a modern rock and roll deity has spent over half his life touring the world and recording with his bandmates. That kind of dedication to one thing may lead some to believe music is his entire world, but such oversimplifications are simply untrue. Heafy is a man of many skills, including yoga and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, who thinks everyone should always be doing something in their lives that they suck at. He says this in part to help keep egos in check, but also because he believes that challenging ourselves to be better, even at the silliest things, ultimately makes us better people.
Challenges lie at the heart of every good story. The hero’s journey, if you will, is defined by the challenges they face and how they choose to deal with them. The most significant problem I have ever encountered was a deadline or two regarding stories I put off until the last minute due to busyness or general laziness. That same lethargy has seeped into other areas of my life, such as diet and exercise, and in turn, made me hate myself for standing in my own way.
All of this is, and much more, is what made me curious about Heafy’s outlook on life. He could readily accept his place in the rock hierarchy and push himself to raise his profile higher with each subsequent release or tour, but instead, he goes the extra mile to create challenges that otherwise would not exist. That is how he became interested in jiu-jitsu, as well as playing video games. It’s also how, roughly eight years ago, he began practicing yoga.
I, on the other hand, have only previously done yoga for short periods of time when I deemed it necessary to try and improve my life. I have never been to a yoga studio or attended a legitimate yoga class. In fact, the closest I’ve come to such things has been by watching yoga videos on YouTube while my cats walk in between my legs before ultimately laying down on the same mat I am trying to use. Basically, I have never practiced yoga.
On October 17, I traveled to Royal Oak, Michigan determined to make a change. Heafy is known around the world for his musical talent, but having watched his Instagram feed and stories for some time I learned, he was also quite skilled in yoga. Whenever he posted about practicing yoga, especially while on the road, I found myself enamored by his ability to carve out time amidst a hectic schedule to center himself once more. I wanted the same for my life, and to my surprise, he agreed to show me the way.
Trivium’s tour manager met my partner and me at the rear entrance to the Royal Oak Music Theater later in the afternoon. As we walked through the backstage area, he explained how the band traveled with practice mats wherever they went. “It’s a necessity,” he told me. We pulled the mats from their travel bags and laid them out in the center of the venue lobby as the merchandise dealers for every band on tour set up their stations and watched with amusement. The presence of strangers always makes me nervous, but I was determined to try and focus on the reason for my being there rather than the external factors that may make me self-conscious.
Heafy stands a little over six feet tall, which makes him somewhat hard to miss. He appeared with his Twitch streaming setup in hand, introduced himself (as if he weren’t someone I had idolized for the past decade), and asked if he could share our session with his followers online. We obliged his request, and after a quick setup, he began to share his knowledge.
“I know nothing,” I replied. “So anything you can share would be helpful.”
My partner, it’s worth noting, knew a lot. She has been practicing yoga on and off for the better part of a decade. When she made this fact known, Heafy replied, “oh, so you’re a pro!”
Heafy explained that we would be working through two sequences, both of which he tries to inject into his workout routine multiple times a week. The purpose of these exercises, as with the purpose of all yoga, was to find optimum physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Those things are achieved through the stretching and positioning as much as they are the breathing and thinking that happens while the physical activity takes place.
We started with our breathing, which Heafy described as “Darth Vader” like, and our eyes closed tight. We inhaled deeply and exhaled with purpose. After several rounds, we stood and began to loosen up by wiggling our arms and legs and necks.
The first sequence of positions flowed like dance, but they required some movements my body was not used to performing. I could feel the familiar burn of hard work in my muscles before we got the entire series down, but Heafy informed me that such feelings were natural.
“Don’t push it and you will be fine,” he said. “We have been doing this longer than you, so don’t try and do everything we do the way do it. If it hurts, you’re pushing yourself too hard.”
I stumbled through the series several times before falling into the flow that seemed to come so naturally to the other two people around me. When that moment happened, I felt an understanding wash over me. Though painful, I could feel my muscles adjusting, even loosening, with each movement. I tried not to get too excited by focusing on my breathing, but it was hard not to take pride in the small amount of progress I was beginning to make.
“This one will be a bit harder,” Heafy said as we prepared to enter the second sequence. “Again, do not try and do everything I am doing. If you’re struggling, please don’t push it. We don’t need anyone getting hurt out here.”
What followed was indeed harder. The simple stretches of the first sequence evolved into elaborate moves that contorted my body and made my physical limits crystal clear. The names escape me now, but I began to understand why people who do yoga are often offended when someone writes off the art form as being little more than stretching. As Heafy and my partner bent and moved around my muscles grew increasingly sore, and sweat began to drip from my brow. What little I could do to match their action did feel good, but it was tiring nonetheless.
We, thankfully, did not repeat the second sequence. I was spent, and I think Heafy could see the defeat on my face. “You did really good,” he said with the best of intentions. “If you work at this, I think you could be great in time. We all have to start somewhere.”
As I rose to my feet and attempted to conceal my soreness from those around me, I could tell my body already felt different. Though I knew my muscles would ache in the future, I found myself feeling loose in a way I hadn’t previously known. More importantly, I was relaxed. My mind had been cleared from the clutter of the work day, the frustrations of travel, and of a million little things that seemed to occupy my thinking throughout the majority of any given day. I felt, for lack of a better word, free.